Rajeev Kale COO
MICE, Domestic, Sports Holidays & Cruises, Thomas Cook (India)
Striving to introduce‘wow’ factor
Responsible for holding a unique position in the online travel space, Thomas Cook is known for its diverse portfolio of travel related products and services to provide the finest experience to its customers. In the MICE segment too, Thomas Cook strive to introduce a ‘wow’ factor be it through selection of venue, cuisine for the main event, exciting and exceptional tours. In an interview with India Outbound, Rajeev Kale provides insight into the company’s MICE business, which has been seen 25-30 per cent growth in the last five years.
To begin with, what trends are you seeing in the MICE business, particularly outbound in the Indian travel industry?
The MICE segment is becoming increasingly sophisticated with evolving preferences and interests. Corporates are looking at experiential trips and higher budgets. At Thomas Cook India MICE, we always strive to introduce a ‘wow’ factor be it through selection of venue, cuisine for the main event, exciting and exceptional tours. New unexplored destinations and unique and engaging experiences will be the predominate factors for corporates undertaking MICE travel.
Clients are always looking for a unique experience. At Thomas Cook India, we have introduced new fresh experiential incentives by offering fascinating products that are untouched by the rest of the market. For example, a helicopter city tour to St Petersburg or ballooning over Turkey with a champagne breakfast. Locations for regular dinners are also chosen to be up-market and fun locations, keeping in mind that corporates are keen on having their dealers truly enjoy their trip. Some of the fun locations we have included – Bowling Alleys in Russia with 21 alleys, ice hockey and pool facilities; dinners with stunning backdrops like Sunset Beach Dinner against the Burj Arab.
What kind of growth do you anticipate in the MICE business (outbound)? What have been the growth rates so far?
MICE is a distinct and unique travel segment and at Thomas Cook India we have seen truly impressive growth over the last five years – more so in the last two years. Seen in the light of the negative fallout of the economic slowdown on travel, cost sensitivities and tightening of budgets by most corporates, our MICE business has seen a superlative performance of over 25 per cent growth year on year.
How would Thomas Cook be different from the existing travel-related portals who offer MICE services?
Thomas Cook India has been a pioneer in the MICE space, and that first mover advantage has worked emphatically in differentiating us – be it introducing new destinations like Jordan and Canada to the MICE market, and recently we have continued our foray into unique MICE locales like The Czech Republic, South Africa, Morocco, Japan and Russia with prestigious offerings and exciting experiences. Given the sluggish economy and price sensitive sentiment, our MICE Team launched novel Cruise Incentives as an impactful all inclusive value product and we have seen strong demand. Thomas Cook India was a key to pioneering Spousal MICE Tours (this initiative where a spouse accompanies MICE delegates) and this has seen emphatic growth.
With innovation driving our DNA, few strategic initiatives that we focussed on included Domestic MICE – to leverage on the India opportunity in the face of a depreciating rupee. Our focus on product innovation, service excellence backed with the expertise and experience of our dedicated MICE Team is a clear winning proposition.
Our extensive footprint offers our MICE consumers very valuable access to us- right upto his doorstep: over 240 locations (including 21 airport counters) and a strong partner network of 134 Gold Circle Partners and 165 Preferred Sales Agents in over 150 cities across India.
What kind of advantage can you offer to your customers through your MICE travel services?
Innovation and customization are our forte. To ensure MICE travel stays fresh and enticing, we constantly introduce new destinations to our MICE portfolio eg South America, Japan, New Zealand, Morocco, Germany, Jordan, Russia, Philippines, and South Africa.
Vibrant and engaging “wow” experiences and venues are a critical element in our MICE programmes to entice both Corporates and top performers of the MICE segment.
Key elements that form our TCIL advantage include
• End-to-end services from air travel, visa, travel insurance, foreign exchange, hotel, and sightseeing options
• Cuisine forms a pivotal role in any incentive group and hence, we have our in-house team of chefs who provide for Indian cuisines from different parts of the country
• Tailor-made sightseeing via exhilarating helicopter rides, hot air balloon gondolas, decadent limo drives and the adrenalin rush of super-cars!
• Meticulous planning and smooth execution
• Personalised service is also important, where each customer is contacted individually. At Thomas Cook India, we achieve this through our call centre support
• Our MICE specialists tour mangers – who bring crucial experience and expertise along with extensive destination knowledge and an indepth understanding of MICE travellers.
What are your current volumes? What are the international destinations on the circuit for MICE? Which destinations do you have in Europe?
While short haul destinations will continue to feature in our MICE portfolio (eg Far East, Dubai, Sri Lanka), Europe is always a favourite for discerning MICE clients and Germany, East Europe, the Czech Republic and Switzerland have been extremely popular. Our innovative foray includes new and fresh destinations like Greece, Italy, Morocco, Russia, and South Africa. Long haul vibrant destinations are also a key element of our strategy- South America, New Zealand, Japan. Our MICE product teams are also exploring the potential of Abu Dhabi and Oman Singapore has performed extremely well for us over the last year and we expect cruising to see strong uptake too- more so with Star Cruise’s new sailing ex Hong Kong
How proactive is the organisation in promoting MICE itineraries?
MICE has been a key strategic focus area for us at Thomas Cook India. Our outreach and acquisition plans are proactive and impactful- with a dedicated sales force, as also joint initiatives with our Corporate Travel Sales teams. We partner with several key Tourism Boards to further awareness and visibility of the MICE opportunity via a diversified portfolio of joint marketing initiatives- print, TV, radio, BTL and consumer on ground engagement. Knowledge and Training form a key component of our MICE promotions – especially for our key front line teams. Product development and innovation will continue to be the vital powerhouse of our success story in the MICE market, as this forms a mission critical element to MICE decision makers.
Which destinations/players are most dynamic and proactive and which can pick up?
To ensure MICE travel stays fresh and enticing, it is vital that new destinations are offered and over the last year, we have introduced South America, Japan, New Zealand, Morocco, Germany, Jordan, Russia, Philippines, and South Africa into our MICE portfolio.
How do you see the expansion and evolution of Thomas Cook’s MICE business in the next five years?
The MICE segment offers impactful potential and with over 25-30 per cent YoY growth over the last five years, at Thomas Cook India, MICE forms a critical element of our strategic plan. The braggable rights and strong appeal of “foreign” travel works like magic as a reward and performance incentive, and hence the growth trajectory of MICE is real and a strongly viable one.